With some 840 deputies, around 200 bishops, and more than 94,000 exhibitors and hangers-on, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is one of the largest legislative bodies in the world. Meeting every three years since 1785, General Convention (GC) is the Episcopal Church’s primary governing and legislative body, as well as its family reunion.
The government of the Episcopal Church is very similar to the United States Government (which makes sense, considering both were created around the same time by many of the same people). I often use the comparison to the US government to explain GC to people, and though it is not perfect, I have found it to be the easiest and fastest way to understand General Convention.
In the Episcopal Church we have 111 dioceses, which can be equated to states. While we are commonly referred to as the Episcopal Church of the United States (sometimes ECUSA), this is not an accurate description, as we include dioceses from many other parts of the world including Haiti, Taiwan, and Europe.
Like a state, each Diocese is a micro-version of the greater whole. Diocesan Conventions are held annually (as opposed to every three years) and are set up similar to GC.
Like the US Government, GC has two houses: the House of Bishops (HoB) and the House of Deputies (HoD), which would loosely correspond to the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
Our “senators” are our bishops: every diocese elects at least one, but some have additional suffragan bishops, as well as their retired bishops.
Our “House of Representatives” is comprised of deputies. There are eight deputies from each diocese: four clergy and four lay (a lay person is anyone who is not a member of the clergy).
The head of the HoD is elected to the position by the Deputies, and the Presiding Bishop (the head of the HoB) is elected by the bishops and then confirmed by the deputies. The Presiding Bishop is the closest thing the Episcopal Church has to a president, but the she doesn’t have as much power as the US President (for example, she has no veto power). She is more like a Head of State than a leader of an executive branch (think Queen of England). She is elected for a single nine year term, and serves as a representative for the church to the international community as well as a central figure to look to for guidance as a denomination. Our current PB is finishing out her term, and we will elect a new Presiding Bishop in Salt Lake City this year.
The primary task of GC is to vote on resolutions. You can learn more about that in The Legislative Process.